Global Economy

Coronavirus could push half a billion more people into poverty globally, UN warns

More than four out of five people that fall into poverty as a result of the virus could be located in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, in the scenario of a 10%, decline in income or consumption.

Mohamed Hossan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic could result in between 420 million and 580 million more people, or 8% of the global population, living in poverty, a study by the United Nations University has found.

Researchers based their calculations on the most extreme scenario of a 20% decline in income or consumption around the world. This looked at people falling below the three international poverty lines of living on less than $1.90, $3.20 or $5.50 a day. 

Higher estimates could mean that half of the overall global population of 7.8 billion people could be living in poverty by the end of the pandemic. There were 3.4 billion people living on less than $5.50 a day in 2018, which are the latest official recorded figures. 

Even based on its “low” scenario of a 5% fall in income or consumption, this could lead to the first increase in global poverty since 1990, the authors stated in the paper which was published Thursday. In this case, researchers forecast that as many as 135 million people, or nearly 2% more of the world’s population, could become destitute as a result of COVID-19. 

The report also said that depending on the poverty line, this increase could “represent a reversal of approximately a decade in the world’s progress in reducing poverty.” 

In some regions, it said the impact of the coronavirus could result in poverty levels similar to those recorded 30 years ago. 

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More than four out of five people that fall into poverty as a result of the virus could be located in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, in the scenario of a “medium,” or 10%, contraction in income or consumption. 

Researchers warned that the coronavirus could therefore pose a real challenge to the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending poverty by 2030. 

Christopher Hoy, co-author of the report from the Australian National University, said the economic crisis caused by the virus “is potentially going to be even more severe than the health crisis.” 

While he said that there was little anyone could do to stop the world going into a recession, Hoy added that the report showed just how severe the crisis could be if urgent action wasn’t taken by policymakers. 

Another co-author, Andy Sumner, a professor from King’s College London, said that the researchers were surprised at the “sheer scale of the potential poverty tsunami that could follow COVID-19 in developing countries.” 

He said the findings showed the importance of a “dramatic expansion of social safety nets in developing countries” as soon as possible. 

The United Nations’ International Labour Organisation estimated that the pandemic could result in 35 million more people falling into working poverty than before the outbreak, in its figures released in March.


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